WNBA

Yolanda Griffith's path to all-time greatness and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Yolanda Griffith, Sacramento Monarchs
Yolanda Griffith (NBAE/Getty Images)

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2021 is star-studded across the board, featuring plenty of Sacramento flavour.

MORE: Poetic nature of Adelman, Webber entering HOF

Among incoming Hall of Famers with Sacramento ties is Sacramento Monarchs legend Yolanda Griffith, who wasted no time making her presence on the interior felt at the WNBA level.

In fact, she made a historically dominant impact in her first season in the league, setting the tone for a legendary 10-year career. What made it so historic? The story actually begins well before the WNBA played its first game in 1996.

Griffith's professional career began in 1993 when she joined Germany's DJK Wildcats Aschaffenburg after graduating from Florida Atlantic University. After four seasons overseas, Griffith returned stateside where she would join the American Basketball League (ABL), which, despite being a direct competitor to the WNBA, folded midway through the 1998-99 season.

Then came the WNBA.

With the second overall pick in the 1999 WNBA Draft, the Monarchs selected Griffith, who was tabbed as the second-best draft-eligible prospect behind only the reigning back-to-back NCAA Player of the Year, Chamique Holdsclaw.

It didn't take long for Griffith to show why she went second in the draft. How's this for the first five games of a WNBA career?

  • 15 PTS, 8 REB
  • 31 PTS, 9 REB, 4 AST
  • 13 PTS, 18 REB, 2 BLK
  • 12 PTS, 19 REB, 3 BLK
  • 28 PTS, 19 REB, 4 STL

Griffith would go on to record a double-double in 17 of the 29 games in which she appeared, finishing her first-ever WNBA season with averages of 18.8 points, a league-leading 11.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.9 blocks per contest, all while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.

In a year where dozens of veterans from the ABL joined the W, Griffith was named the league's Newcomer of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player. She was far from a rookie, but that's not bad for your first year of WNBA service.

Despite Griffith's dominance, Sacramento would bow out in the first round of the playoffs after being defeated by the Los Angeles Sparks.

Griffith's breakout WNBA debut was only the beginning, as her time in Sacramento saw her earn seven All-Star selections, two All-WNBA First Team selections and an additional three All-WNBA Second Team Selections, but the highlight of her time with the Monarchs came in the 2005 campaign when she helped lead them to a 25-9 record and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

From there, Sacramento would earn sweeps in the first two rounds of the 2005 WNBA Playoffs to advance to the Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Paced by a Finals debut in which she finished with 25 points and nine rebounds, Griffith earned Finals MVP as she led the Monarchs to the 2005 WNBA title with averages of 18.5 points and 9.8 rebounds in a 3-1 series victory over the Connecticut Sun.

Sacramento returned to the Finals in 2006 but fell short, and Griffith would move on from the franchise by signing with the Seattle Storm in 2008 before leaving in 2009 to sign with the Indiana Fever, where a torn Achilles tendon would effectively put an end to her decorated playing career.

The story only tells part of Griffith's dominance, but her Hall of Fame résumè should do the rest…

Yolanda Griffith career highlights

  • 1989 Parade Magazine High School All-American
  • 1993 NCAA Division II Player of the Year
  • No. 1 pick in the 1997 ABL Draft
  • 1998 ABL Defensive Player of the Year
  • No. 2 pick in the 1999 WNBA Draft
  • 1999 WNBA Newcomer of the Year
  • 1999 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year
  • 1999 WNBA MVP
  • 7x WNBA All-Star (1999-2001, 2003, 2005-07)
  • 5x All-WNBA (2x First Team, 3x Second Team)
  • 2x WNBA rebounding champion (1999, 2001)
  • 2x Olympic Gold Medalist (2000, 2004)
  • 2005 WNBA Champion
  • 2005 WNBA Finals MVP
  • WNBA All-Decade Team
  • WNBA Top 15 Players of All Time
  • WNBA Top 20@20
  • Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2014
  • Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2021

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